12-19: Its been awhile…

So, I have completely failed to update in the last 2 months.  Sorry about that.

I plan on spending the next few weeks catching up on a lot of blogs but here is a short overview of the last few months:

– We started a program to bring 3 ni-Van youth home to train at the dojang in Minneapolis.  It has been a rollercoaster of emotions and failures and small successes.  More information about the program available at: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/hwa-rang-do-exchange-program–2
– I got a book contract to write a travel guide to Vanuatu. 
– I wrote a travel guide to Vanuatu.  (This is a significant part of why the blogs stopped.  Too much book writing.)
– We competed in another Judo Tournament with the club we’ve been training with.
– I ran a Girls Leading Our World Camp with three other PCVs.  It was fantastic and I’ve been able to see the change in the girls as they try to apply the skills they learned there to their lives at the Youth Center.
– We’ve continued our HRD/TSD martial arts club at the Youth Center to great success.  We have 6 yellow belts and 4 orange belts who train regularly.  They have promised to continue training next year using the videos and with a different instructor we identified.
– There were many Christmas and Break-Up parties at the Youth Center, Wan SmolBag, VIT, and the volunteers we’ve befriended.
– There have been hundreds of other little moments that deserved recognition, but trying to crank out a book took precedence.  Expect me to better in the next few months. 

We are leaving Vanuatu on Friday the 20th of December.  We will both be finished with our Peace Corps service and off to new adventures.  We will not be returning home in any kind of a timely fashion, but we will get there eventually.

Our plans at the moment are 3 nights in Australia then fly to Bali, Indonesia.  We will spend 2 weeks in Indonesia then hop across the sea to Singapore, Malaysia.  After a few weeks in Malaysia, we are hopping over a different sea to Cambodia or Vietnam.  We’ll backtrack sometime in early February to meet up with my dad, brother and brother’s girlfriend in Thailand.  After that, plans are quite up in the air.

9-14 Australia Part 2: The Dry Activities

Lanterns at dusk = magic.

 We spent two days wet. Then we spent five days dry. The wet days get a blog to themselves, but dry days aren’t nearly as interesting. Mostly, we hung out, wandered around town, played on the internet, watched people on the boardwalk, and took afternoon naps.

One afternoon, we went for a walk on the boardwalk. There was a festival going on, so we thought we’d check it out. The festival wasn’t that interesting, but there were artistic interpretations of Chinese lanterns hung in a few trees. I thought they were cool so we stopped and took photos. Then we wandered onward and I didn’t think about it anymore. Until we were heading back to our hostel to get dinner. All the lanterns were lit. It was unexpectedly beautiful. We stopped and played with the camera again.
The false beach in Cairns has false rocks

We went back out to the boardwalk that night. We wanted to go walking. We stopped by a haagen daz (I lack umlauts and the knowledge of how to spell that.) ice cream parlor. There used to be one in uptown Minneapolis but it closed forever ago. It was delicious ice cream. We wandered on with our ice creams. I was thinking about turning around and heading back to the hostel when I heard flute music. Jason and I followed the music to a street performer. We sat and listened to him play and at ice cream and watched the stars.

Down by the boardwalk…

On our last day in Cairns, we rented a car. I haven’t gotten a new copy of my driver’s license since I lost my wallet, so Jason had to drive. He was excited to drive, which was great until they gave us a stick shift. So, we had to change to an automatic and then we were off. We went to Kuranda Wildlife Park and Aboriginal Experience. The wildlife park was decent. The cages seemed a bit small to me, but the animals all seemed content. The guide was very knowledgeable and clearly cared about the animals. He had lots of good stories about how dangerous all the animals are, which is only fair. It is Australia.

Please note the “Don’t get eaten by a crocodile” sign.

The Aboriginal Experience part was cheesy but fun. The guide, wearing a loincloth and body paint, took us to a field where he showed us how to throw a spear both with and without a launcher. Then he played the digerido. He showed us the basic technique and then invited us to try. Jason and another young guy from the group tried it first. Neither of them was terribly successful. Jason sounded like a dying animal. I tried it. I choose to believe I had greater success. I managed to make a noise that ended in a dying animal, instead of being a dying animal all the way through. Next up, we went and learned to throw a boomerang. Jason did pretty well; his got most of the way back to him. I did better than I thought I would.
Feeding a kangaroo!

When we finished with the aboriginal area, we went on a WWII Duck tour. The park has a dozen or so amphibious vehicles from WWII which they take around the nature preserve and point out interesting plants. The coolest part about that was finding out the English names for a bunch of things I see daily and some of the things I eat. We wandered through the orchard after that, which was also super informative.

It made noise.  I’ll take that.

We had a picnic lunch and then went to a little tourist stop where we looked at all the pretty things. There were a lot of pretty things. And a lot of hippies. All the blond dreadlocks and harem pants made me miss Fest. (Let me make myself clear that the blond dreadlocks and harem pants are not the things I miss about Fest, merely associated with all the good things there.) We wandered through the market area which sold a lot of crafts, “magic” stones and other items I would expect at Fest booths. It was nice to have a moment of forgetting that I’m on the other side of the world.

Jason had fun driving on the wrong side of the road. He did a good job staying on the right and staying in the middle of the lane. He did a less good job signaling his turns, however the windshield was very clean by the end of the day. I had fun channel surfing on the radio and watching the scenery.
It was a good and much needed vacation. I look forward to some extended traveling in a few months.

9-6 Australia Part 1: Diving!

On the boat!

The highlight of this trip was the diving and the dive tour. We booked it well in advance after reading about a bunch of different dive operators. We went with Deep Sea Diver’s Den because it was PADI certified (as opposed to one of the other international certifications), had good reviews and was in the cheap side of the mid-range of prices. We made a good choice.

They picked us up on Monday morning and took us to the wharf where we boarded the first boat. The boat left the harbor and headed for the reef. After about an hour and a half, we stopped at the first dive site. I was glad the dive master who was guiding us made us run through basic skills, since it had been a few months. The other two people we were diving with hadn’t gone in a few years and it showed.

The dive itself was nice. Not the most impressive one we went on, but still, anything on the Great Barrier Reef is pretty much bound to be cool.

We left from that dive site and went further out on the reef where we dove again. After that dive, we joined up with the big, live-aboard boat. Jason and I and a few other people changed boats and put our stuff away. We had about ten minutes to sit down before we were back on the dive deck for dive three.

The fish really liked the ship’s light at night.

At this point some of the dives start running together. I’m not sure which one it was that I spotted the fire fish/ lion fish sleeping under the anchor blocks. (I was having problems equalizing and was going down slower than everyone, so I spotted it.) Then we swam over a turtle, though not a big guy. Only about two feet long. (Different ideas of big turtles started applying on the next dive.) We also saw a black-tipped reef shark that was about five feet long.

We returned to the boat around 5 and had an hour to chill out. I went up top and watched the water. That is a whole lot of blue. We ate tasty food and then went diving again. (Jason would like me to point out that the food was fantastic.)

I watched the sunrise.  It was a good one.

The night dive was very cool. There were big gray fish that have learned to hunt by the light of the torches. If we pointed a torch at a fish, the big fish would swoop in and eat it. It was almost as much fun to watch the other divers as to watch the fish. Each diver became a little pinpoint of light as we swam. It was like watching moving constellations. During our safety stop, (every dive there is a saftey stop before you go all the way up to let your body reacclimate) we covered our flashlights and waved our fingers through the air. There was a full moon and the bioluminescence made trails of sparkles through the water. I had a magic wand in my fingers.

Jason and I were the last group to head up. The boat had a flood light on the back and a bunch of fish were attracted to it. We watched the silhouette of the other divers and the fish in the light as we ascended. We could see little rainbow sparkles in the their bubbles, too.

Dawn over the live-aboard boat.

They fed us again once we were dry. The cook made too much dessert so we had to have two. In the morning, we ate breakfast and immediately got back in the water. We saw a turtle who’s shell was more than a meter long. We saw another turtle and a few more sharks. (Just reef sharks, don’t freak out.)

We moved from that mooring to one closer to shore where we did two dives. The last dive was my favorite. We went in caves. Our dive guide knew which caves popped out at the other end, so he led us through them. In one, the first exit we were heading for was blocked by a giant sea turtle, so we went further in. The second one was really dark and so neat. (Jason was much less impressed. I thought it was awesome.) Also, we swam under a turtle and saw a sleeping shark that was over 2 meters long.

Sleepy head. 

We transfered boats again after lunch and headed back to shore. (Again, Jason would like to say that the food was delicious.) We both napped on the way back in. Diving that much is exhausting, but really cool.

It had been a few months since we’d been diving, so it was good to go again. I had a few rough dives in the middle where I really struggled to keep my buoyancy right. I was pleased with my last two dives where I felt much more in control and calm about it. I still need to stay pretty aware of it, but at least I feel like I can control it and not have it be the only thing I do during my dive.

1-2 Culture Shock, Part 1: Target

Shortly after I got back to the US, I decided I needed a few things I’d forgotten to bring with me. Things like razors. (I started shaving my legs again and it is kind of shocking to everyone, me included.)
My dad needed to stop by Target, so I went along for the ride. I mean, how bad can it be, right?
Target is insane. Seriously. I will leave the rest of the store out of this and focus exclusively on razors. The purpose of a razor is to provide a sharp edge with which to remove any offending hairs, right? So, the basic concept is “piece of metal with sharp edge.” Now, I understand that this basic concept can be improved upon by adding a second piece of metal next to the first to ensure that all the hairs are caught on the first go round. Fine. I get that. I can kind of even understand that some people might like some “conditioning strip” thing after the razor has crossed their skin in the hopes that a little pad of soap stuff is going to make a difference in the shine and luster of the skin you will never show in the Minnesota winter, not to mention that same winter is busy sucking all moisture out of your body and drying out your legs faster than the razor can keep up with. I mean, it seems a little silly, but ok, fine. I can handle that, too.
But why do we need 17 kinds of razors? I tried to understand what the difference was between one pack of razors and another. I looked to see how many blades (2 or 3, every time), how many in the pack (3-5), if the “conditioning strip” was different (not, and there aren’t any that didn’t have something there), the price (about the same across the board) and the colors (all pansy, stupid pastels). So, what’s the point of having 17 choices of disposable razors?
My conclusion is that there isn’t a point. One name brand is not significantly different than the other and in fact, having that many choices reduces our choices. We (I) get overwhelmed and fall back on whatever is familiar. I’m not going to branch out, try a new product or style. Advertising isn’t going to help, because everyone is doing the same advertising. Making a product more attractive won’t make a difference because my brain has gone into panic mode. There is no reasonable way to compare and contrast all those choices while standing in the store. So we don’t. We stick to the easy and the familiar.
I did get my razor, though my dad was wondering where I was by the time I had that conversation with myself. They work fine. My legs are shaved. I don’t even remember what brand they are, I only know they are pink and that also bothers me.

7-9 Officer’s Mess

I think I can check something off my bucket list.  It seems like everyone should have a goal, military or not, of being invited to dine in the officers’ mess.  I can mark that goal as complete.

We went to church.  After church we were just bumming around and chatting with our English neighbors when the head of the French army encampment came wandering over.  We got to chatting, and by ‘we,’ I mean him and Hannah because he spoke very little English and I speak no French.  After an hour, he offered us some of their combat rations.  Then he invited us to dinner. 
The Mess Tent is the one in the middle

He said to come around 7:30 for apperetif.  What?  There are many confusing things about that statement these days.  The first one is being told a specific time.  My time works along the lines of “morning,” “lunch time” and “evening.”  Then of course, there is the part where 7:30 is about an hour before bed.  Seriously, I get ready for bed around 8:30 and read for a bit then fall asleep.  7:30 is late.  Then of course, the word apperetif.  It took me about fifteen minutes to remember that in French, that means alcohol.  What?

We showed up at 7:30.  We even put on real clothes, like you know, a long sleeve shirt and a clean skirt.  Jason showered for the occasion.
We did in fact stand around and have a cocktail hour.  Of course, the cocktails were VB, twisties and peanuts, and we were standing on uneven grass that was edging towards ankle deep mud, but whatever.  Still a cocktail hour.
The guy on the right is the head honcho

Then we sat down to a three course meal.  Again, What?  I live on a piece of tropical rock in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.  My variety of food more or less consists of taro, yam and cabbage.  We had cucumber salad with a really nice dressing as a first course, mashed potatoes and duck as a second course (I didn’t have the duck) and beneits with nutella for dessert.  That is more variety of food than I have had in months.  And again, it was a surreal combination of three course French meal under a tent, sitting on folding camp chairs, at a folding camp table on a slope that if I picked my foot up off the edge of my chair it tipped back in a rather alarming way. 

To top off an excellent evening, I had a really fun conversation with the woman who I think is the sergeant in charge of their logistics.  She spoke a little English, not a lot but I think it was an issue of being out of practice rather than not speaking it.  I thought she did great.  Jason told me later that one of the other officers referred to her as crazy.  I agree, but she’s totally my kind of crazy.  We had a conversation that had a lot to do with hand gestures and curious looks and occasionally asking the doctor to translate for us.  I felt bad for Alexandra who was stuck dealing with both of us being all riled up and crazy like. 
We managed to talk about nakol, which involved me running down to the school office to grab my laptop and show videos, AIDS and the work that Alexandra and I are doing, her background as a Cameroonian who immigrated at 16 to France, and several other topics.  I was eating slow due to the number of hand gestures I needed to make.  I mean, I talk with my hands anyway but let’s say that it was good there was plenty of space between me and the guy on my right, otherwise I might have accidentally stabbed him with my fork.  (ps-There were real forks and plates.  Not leaves with my hands…)
Jason was sitting by the main English speaking officer.  They had a lively conversation going, though the only thing I caught of it all evening was the word “tipskin.”  I guess they were talking about nakol and the circumcision rituals.  Or something.
I had a great evening.  My life is truly bizarre.

12-27 Further Adventures in Transport in Vanuatu

Our ride to the ship was…interesting…
But we got to board the ship like pirates!

I think I’ve mentioned on this blog that the ships are a slightly questionable way to travel. As I write this, I’m on another one. This time, I’m on the Efate Queen, the passenger liner that services Pentecost. We’re going to Santo for New Years.

So, the adventure of getting on the boat. First off, I had to find out when the ship would arrive. I called the office, thinking they might have an idea of when it would get to Melsisi, given that is the job of the office. After talking to the woman, I remembered that I live in Vanuatu. She told me the ship would be out at 1 pm and arriving in Pentecost at 10 am. There are 2 problems with that statement, the ship leaves port at 3 pm and it only takes the Efate Queen 16 hours to make the run to Pentecost. So, I started asking around the village to find out when it would be coming through. The general consensus was “morning but not really early, like 5 or 6 am.”
We went to Melsisi last night and slept at Jason’s house. We got up at 4 am and were at the dock by 5 am. We waited. We took naps on bags of cement and had a lovely breakfast of day old bread, atomic cheese and passion fruit. We waited some more. Around 8, a man stopped by and told us he’d seen the boat in Waterfall, the port before ours. We waited.
Around 8:30, we were told that the boat would not in fact be coming to Melsisi. Sorry, come again? The ocean was too rough for it to come to the Melsisi “dock,” so the captain had called all the agents and told them all passengers were to come to Waterfall. Our agent hadn’t informed us of anything. In fact, we didn’t even know where our agent was, he wasn’t waiting for the boat like I would have expected him to do.
Alexandra took a nap while we waited for the ship.

Jason went to call the captain, which required walking up the Melsisi hill to find service. The captain didn’t pick up. He went to find the agent. The agent wasn’t at his store or his house. Someone said he was in mass. Jason went to mass and found the agent taking communion. As soon as he had his wafer, Jason called him out of church to ask about the boat. The agent had forgotten his phone in the village and hadn’t gotten the message that they wouldn’t be docking in Melsisi.

We started making phone calls. Lots of phone calls. We called the captain, who didn’t answer. The agent tried some people, who didn’t answer. I thought to call Silas, a man who lives in Waterfall. He answered but is currently in Vila. He gave us the number of one of his kids who would be meeting the ship. We called him, he answered. He said to call back in two minutes while he went to go find the agent in Waterfall. We waited. We called back. The Melsisi agent talked to the Waterfall agent and told the ship to wait for us.
Good. Progress. At least it wouldn’t leave without us, well, not without waiting for a few minutes before leaving without us.
Made it on board!

Then we started to call about transport down to Waterfall. We called the school driver, he didn’t answer. We called my papa, who was in the village and told us the driver was no longer in the village and my uncle had taken his truck on top. We called Pierre Paul, who didn’t answer. We called my papa back and asked about Jason’s papa’s boat, turns out Jason’s papa had just pulled his boat out of the water because it was too rough. We’ll get back to that issue. We called Silas back to ask for the numbers for the two trucks in Waterfall. Neither of them answered. Mass finished and we asked the priest, but his truck is broken. At the point where it was time to start panicking, I heard a boat. We ran down to the water and found an unfamiliar speed boat pulling in, as well as Pierre Paul’s truck. We asked Pierre Paul. He said no. We asked the boat. He said yes.

We got our things and threw them in the boat and loaded in with five ni-Vans, including a 7-year-old who was going to Santo to go to school and was the only other passenger for the ship.
Remember how Jason’s papa had just pulled his boat out of the water because it was too rough? Turns out, it was kind of rough. By kind of, I mean that the waves were taller than my head while I was sitting in the boat. We had a lovely ride down to the ship. I got a couple of waves broadside and am well salted on the right, though not on the left. Jason hid in the bow and is being all smug about his driness. Alexandra is not really a fan of boat travel. It was good she took a lot of dramamine or I think she would have been freaking out. The little girl was holding on to the two men she was sitting between. She had a death grip on both of them and was staring straight ahead, poor girl.
I’m using my phone to talk to the person on shore. 

The driver was good and knew how to ride the waves. We had to get out past the reef, which is fun on any day that isn’t calm like glass. If today was like glass, it was a bottle being tossed out of a truck doing 60 on the highway. Not the kind of glass that makes for smooth sailing. We took a couple of big waves head on to get the angle right then the driver put as at a slope and the ride calmed down. On the way back towards shore where the ship was, we surfed the waves. That is as much fun in a boat as it is in person.

Getting into the ship was a smaller adventure. We passed up bags first. Each time a wave came it pushed us up level with the side of the ship, so then it was just a hand off. Next, we passed the little girl up the same way. Lastly, we passed ourselves up. The trick was to stand on the edge of the boat and grab the hand of someone in the ship. When the wave came you stabilized on their hand and then stepped into the ship when the boat came level. If you missed it, bad things would probably happen involving swimming lessons. Luckily, we all made it without issue. 

Now, we are between Pentecost and Ambae with another 6-8 hours of boat travel to go. Alexandra is doped on dramamine, I’m writing blogs and Jason is reading over my shoulder. We’ll see what amusement Ambae and Santo bring us.

Some more PCVs joined us from Ambae

He also boarded like a pirate

11-7 One year in

Today (when I’m writing this) is exactly one year on Pentecost.  Here is a list of our accomplishments, the good, the bad and the medevacs.
Taught 2+ terms of sex ed to year 9s and 10s
Taught 2+ terms of computer class to year 9s and 10s (Jason says that between the two of us we’ve taught most of three.  I’m only counting his classes.)
Ran 4 Participatory Hygiene and Sanitation Transformation workshops
Trained a ni-Van co-facilitator up to run a workshop without me present
Helped my community write a grant for improved toilets
Taught community computer classes to anyone interested
Got medevac to Australia.
The other half got medevac to Australia
Held a Koala (x2)
Visited New Zealand
Watched games from the rugby world cup
Published a story, twice
Learned to cook on a fire
Learned to roast food in a piece of bamboo
Learned to skin a coconut without slicing my hand open
Trained incoming Peace Corps Volunteers for their two year adventure
Drank LOTS of kava
Learned to grind kava
Learned to milk kava
Wore a loin cloth to public events
Did a health survey of my district
Assisted with a Training of Trainers for youth leadership camps
Taught sex ed workshops
Cut a bush garden
Cut a second garden in my lawn
Carved a jack-o-lantern on Halloween.  Carved 4 more out of green papayas.
Learned the basic scripted conversation in local language (where are you going?  To the garden!)
Learned to find coconuts
Learned to find firewood
Learned many, many uses for every part of a coconut, tree, leaves and fruit
Baked vegan banana bread on an open fire that is better than most banana bread I’ve had in the States
Explain in Bislama who Bin Laden was and why he got shot
Wove a basket
Explained that not everyone in America is white
Got diahrrea
Got diahrrea again.  And again.  And again.
Got giardia.
Got scabies.
Got strep.  Again. And again.
Used more h2o2 than the entire rest of our lives.
Learned the many and varied uses of a bush knife 
Transported cats as carry-on in an airplane
Stole eggs from a mama hen roosting in my kitchen
Learned to identify edible plants and how to knock the good fruits out of a tree with sticks or stones
Learned to eat coconut milk in quantity.  Large quantity.  Everything is better with coconut milk.
Walked an hour home kava drunk.  Again.  And again.  And again.  And again.
Met wonderful Americans with similar values and diverse backgrounds.
Made friends I hope will last the rest of my life
Walked up hill.  Again. And Again.  And again.  And again.  And again, ad nauseum (sometimes literally, the hills are really hard on hot days.)
Made a friend from a wildly different culture
Ate a giant bat
Ate sea turtle (didn’t know it was until post-consumption.  They like doing that to us.)
Ate fish I’ve only ever seen in tropical fish stores or on screen savers
Drank more kava
Made friends with people from New Zealand, England and Australia.  I know I’ll have a place to sleep when I want to go visiting.  (Right guys? Right?)
Celebrated 6 years of dating and 4 years of co-habitating
Explored the medical system in Vanuatu
Broke out in more unexplained rashes than ever before
Learned that staring at the cell tower does not mean you will have cell reception
Learned to speak Bislama fluently
Learned computer words in French (other basics including Bon Appetite and Bon giorno)
Cut the grass with a bushknife
Built a bush kitchen
Pinned natangura thatch
Lived in a convent for a month
Saw Brisbane, Australia
Saw a volcano explode from the front porch
Watched a volcano explode from the rim
Read a couple hundred books
Traveled by passenger ship and cargo ship
Flew in a plane small enough that the pilot turns around to make the seatbelt announcement
Flew in a 4 seater plane (I swear I’ve been in pickup trucks that were bigger.)
Wrote 20,000 words
Developed an interest in photography
Shot 10,000 photos (some are better than others.  We’re culling the weak and ugly.)
Killed a computer
Acquired a new computer
Taken many long, long walks along the beach (aka commutes)
Had a visit by a friend
Had a visit by a mom
Drank a pinacolada at a resort in the tropics.  It had a flower in it.
Destroyed our English language fluency
Learned to recognize the sound of the rain about to soak you to the skin as it comes down the mountain
Learned the real meaning of “heavy rains”
Sat in a bamboo hut during a cyclone
Felt an earthquake.  Felt a few big earthquakes
Learned to tie on a roof with coconut leaves
Grew tomato plants taller than me
Grew basil plants as tall as me
Said goodbye to friends (hopefully just “see you later.”)
Split firewood with a bushknife
Ate ferns.  They are damn tasty, especially in coconut milk
Walked most of the north-south distance of Pentecost
Got called fatfat a lot
Got a new name and started answering to it faster than my real name
Washed clothes by hand.  Learned that tossing them in the bucket with soap is the same as washing.
Cut my hair and grew it back out
Taught children to do acrobatics through cow pies
Relished a Thanksgiving dinner of boxed mac and cheese
Watched men jump from very high places with vines tied to their ankles
Missed three weddings
Missed one new born
Celebrated 26 with s’mores, mac and cheese cooked on an open fire and a bottle of wine
De-wormed. Twice.  Out of necessity.

11-5 Points South: Sarah’s Birthday!

There was a cake.  We even wrote on it.

The real reason we walked south was not for me to run away from my problems but to celebrate Sarah’s golden birthday.  In Pangi, we met up with her and Eric and we spent the weekend together at her site in Londar. 

Friday evening we ate whiteman food and chatted.  Saturday, we went down to the beach and hung out.  I made a sand castle and a giant squid attacking it.  Eric tried to keep the sand out of his sandals.  (He has a thing about his feet getting dirty.  Don’t ask me what he’s doing on a mud-slick island.)  Alexandra caught up on gossip mags and Sarah and I jumped in the ocean. 
Of course, we’d seen no one on the beach all day until the two of us took our shirts off and went swimming in the ocean.  Then people showed up, trapping us in the water out of modesty.  I gave up on that pretty quickly and just walked out in my bra.  Whatever, they breastfeed during church, I can walk out of the ocean in shorts and a bra.
A day on the beach

Alexandra and I were utterly convinced that Sarah needed a birthday cake.  We bought cake mix (it’s not like cake mix in the US, believe me) and made a cake.  I’m getting better at baking on fire but I’ve got some learning yet to do.  The first cake wasn’t done in the center.  When I lifted it out of the pan, the center fell out in a pile of goo.  I re-baked the center.  When it was done, I chopped it up and glued it back into the cake with frosting.  The second cake was less salvagable.  In an attempt to not have the center undercooked, we burned the outside.  We burned it pretty badly.  We decided not to bring that one to dinner.

We had birthday dinner with Sarah’s family.  We (the PCVs) covered Sarah in baby powder.  It is a very ni-Van thing to do to splash baby powder on someone as a celebration.  They do it at weddings, goodbyes, welcomes, birthdays and any other excuse they can find.  It’s just fun to dump baby powder on people. 
The castle was going to lose
After dinner we went back to Sarah’s house and had champagne and wine as a whiteman celebration.  We stayed up late (like 11 pm) chatting and hanging out.  I hope it was a good birthday.
On Sunday, we all walked back to Vansemakul.  Eric waffled back and forth about coming but was eventually convinced by the thought of pumpkins.  We got lucky just outside Lonorore again and caught a truck the rest of the way up to my village.  The two PCVs from the south stayed until Wednesday when they jumped on the truck that we’d chartered to pick Jason up at the airport.
All told, I have now walked from Pangi to Nabarangiut, which covers three of the four regions of Pentecost.  I just have to go east, then I can say I’ve seen every area, if not the entire island.

11-5 Points South: Walkabout to Londar!

If flexibility is an art form, I should be a master artist by the time I leave here.  Too bad it is usually a study in impatience for me.
My walking buddy
I’ve been trying to do some toktoks on health topics.  It would be a one hour lecture covering anything and everything related to health that I can think of.  I’m struggling to get this idea off the ground.  I want to do it in a way that is sustainable and that incorporated my counterpart.  I hope that if I do enough of these toktoksin collaboration with her, that she will learn to do them on her own, the same way my co-facilitator stepped up and ran a PHAST on his own.  This is proving harder than it sounds.
Last Thursday around 5:30 in the evening, she canceled our toktokagain.  That is the third time it has been moved or canceled, this time it was with about 14 hours’ notice to me.  I’d spent the entire day prepping for this and was a little disappointed.  So, like a healthy and well-balanced adult, I decided not to deal with any of it.
There was a walking stick on Sarah’s house.  It was cool.

I called Alexandra and we made plans to leave at 6 am and walk south.  We’d thrown the idea around earlier in the week but hadn’t pursued it because of my chance to actually do some work.  When the work got canceled, off we went.  We missed 6 am, but we were out a little after 7, which I take as pretty good.

About an hour into our walk, it started raining.  It was a nice cooling drizzle at first but that shortly changed to a torrential downpour.  We just kept walking.  This is Pentecost, a small bit of land surrounded by ocean and covered by a tropical rainforest.  If we stopped for rain, we’d never go anywhere. 
Really, the rain was a blessing.  Our other option was blazing hot sun.  At least the rain kept us cool and well hydrated.  We are coming into the hot season where I can’t drink fast enough to replace the water I lose just doing day-to-day tasks like collecting firewood or weeding the garden.
A little before 11 am, we got to the airport, which we figured was about halfway.  We took a break and ate some food then got back on the road.  We got lucky.  We got picked up by a truck.
That’s a cute kitten

Trucks work like this: Option 1) You charter a truck.  That means you pay the driver to show up at a certain time (or within half an hour to an hour of that time) and go where you tell them.  You pay the entire cost of the truck. Option 2) You start walking and flag down a passing truck.  This means you are willing to pay some amount of money, though the amount varies based on if it is currently chartered and if it is going your direction or not.  I’ve never used this system and I’m not quite sure how it works.  Option 3) You start walking and hope a truck picks you up on the road.  It is up to the discretion of the driver to stop and pick people up.  The person who chartered the truck doesn’t really get any say, though they can say they need the truck to go huriap.  If the driver stops for you, you jump in the back of the truck and go as far as the truck is going.  If you want out before the truck is stopping, you bang the roof or the side of the truck.  The driver slams on the brakes and you jump off and yell thank you.

There is one one road on Pentecost.  It runs north-south.  There are about 6 trucks in my area.  You’d think someone would have passed us.  By the time we got to Lonorore, we’d seen exactly one truck going the wrong way.  We were very grateful that the second truck we saw gave us a ride.
We got all the way to Pangi where we met Sarah and the speed boat to her site.  We could have walked but since it was payday for the teachers, the boat was already going and it was only 250 Vt (the equivalent of less than $3) to catch the boat for the last hour there.  Totally worth the money.

9-6 We made it to NZ and found it to be COLD!

We made it to New Zealand without any hassles on Sunday. Vanuatu wanted to give us something to think about and had a nice earthquake as we were waiting for the plane. Everyone in Christchurch has told us to expect some more while we’re here. The buildings here are a lot bigger than the ones in Vanuatu…
Jason in front of the Aukland skyline.

We flew in Sunday afternoon. We got to the campsite without a hassle and got the tent set up. New Zealand, like Ireland, shuts its doors early on Sunday. We had trouble finding a place to get bread and cheese for breakfast and tape for some emergency tent pole repairs. We eventually found a 24 hour grocery store and got all the necessary things.

I think we will be eating our way through New Zealand. Sunday night we had Indian. I have been dreaming of Saag Paneer since I left the States. Lucky for me, the portions were huge and I had it again for breakfast.
Here is a word to anyone traveling to New Zealand and planning on camping. There are reasons there is an “off-season.” It has to do with weather patterns. It turns out that by “early spring” they really mean “early spring” in the same way people in MN mean it. They mean they are delighted because the snow is gone and you can play outside. For someone coming from over a year of summer, “early spring” can be translated as “I haven’t been able to feel my toes in six hours, my nose is cold, I need to buy a hat and gloves and what they hell was I thinking that this was a good idea?”
The sunset was pretty and Remuera has a nice view.
Our nights have been a little chilly. Like in the 40s. The first night we had one polar fleece blanket to share between the two of us. It was a rough night.
Yesterday, we flew from Aukland to Christchurch. Christchurch is further south and therefore, colder. Not a step up in my books. We got to the campsite at 4:30, got our tent set up by 5 and were on the way to a department store to buy sleeping bags by 5:10. The store closed at 6, so we went huriap smol. We made it and got ourselves two “indoor” sleeping bags as well as All Blacks brand winter hats and a few other camping conveniences.
The sleeping bags were a drastic improvement on sleeping last night, but we’re still in the market for more warm things. I’m looking for flannel pajamas or a fabric store to buy a few yards of polar fleece.
Our home for the next few weeks.  It requires better insulation.
Part of me thinks being cold in 50F weather is ridiculous. Unfortunately, that part of me is not in charge of temperature regulation.
Today, we pick up the bikes and start down the coast. There are a few things we want to see along the way but mostly we’ll stop where something catches our eye. The scenery is supposed to be beautiful and I know I’m looking forward to riding a bike again.
We’ll pick up internet where we can, when we can. Free wifi doesn’t seem to be big in this country but hopefully we’ll keep catching it in bits and pieces from MacDonald’s and Starbucks.